December will be a big month for the Cordúas.
The Cordúa family's first cookbook, Cordúa: Foods of the Americas, is being released next month, and the fourth Churrascos in Houston will be opening, in Memorial City. Both the cookbook and the new restaurant are symbols of the family moving in a new direction -- or, rather, an old one.
The menu that was developed for the new restaurant (and is now the primary menu for all Churrascos restaurants) reflects a move back toward the more traditional Nicaraguan food that brought the family fame when Michael Cordúa opened his first restaurant, in 1988. Some of these original recipes are included in the cookbook, as are current recipes, and, as David Cordúa, Michael's son, says, a little bit of a sneak peek into the future.
Though the new restaurant isn't opening until sometime in December (the date has yet to be announced), the revamped Churrascos menu is already a hit. I was able to try some of the new dishes, including ceviche verde, David Cordúa's take on green juice made from fruit and leafy greens. The ceviche is a refreshing blend of peruvian blue tilapia, cucumber agua de chile, green apple slices and crispy baked kale chips. New ahi tuna ceviche tastes almost Italian-influenced with its basil, red chili, black-olive purée and tuna topped with a rice croquette.
Another great addition to the menu are taquitos de malanga, mini taco shells made of taro root stuffed with sweet pulled pork, pineapple pico de gallo and crema fresca. Unlike normal corn taco shells, the taro root shells are thin and don't crumble under the weight of a bite. They crack, but they stick to the good stuff inside of them, so you get a balanced taco from the first bite to the last. Of course, they're small, so they're really only about three bites.
Perhaps the piece de resistance of the new menu, and David Cordúa's favorite addition, is what's simply called "whole fried fish." It's a fresh market catch, but the day I tried it, it was branzino. David Cordúa explained that there's a traditional Nicaraguan drink called pinolillo that's made with corn meal, cocoa and cinnamon. Instead of using those ingredients in a drink, though, he's used them to create a crust on the fish before frying it. The result is delicate seafood with a crunchy, slightly sweet outer coating that you can pick apart and eat with your fingers. It's served with a tamarind glaze and a coconut tomatillo sauce, but I liked it plain. He called it "fish candy," and that seems as apt a description as any.
Of course, the old favorites that made the Cordúas famous are still on the menu, including the signature churrasco of center-cut beef tenderloin topped with chimichurri sauce and the divine tres leches cake. There's another traditional dessert on the menu that I'd never encountered before, but certainly hope to again, and again: The Pio X. It's named after Pope Pius X, who died in 1914 and was later canonized, and the dessert itself is certainly divine. It's a bread pudding triﬂe thats been soaked in a tequila and caramel sauce then topped with a creamy custard. It's sinfully good.
These recipes and others make up the more than 100 entries in the new cookbook, which will be the first anthology of Cordúa recipes ever printed.
"What was cool was I wanted about a quarter of the book to be new recipes -- things we've been doing in catering or for custom menus or family recipes," Cordúa says. "It was cool to see recipes we've been playing with recently end up there and then end up on menus. In a way, the book influenced the new menus."
Cordúa says that this past February he and his father started testing recipes and narrowing down what they wanted to include in the book. By the time the book is released, it will have been nearly a yearlong process that involved trips back to Nicaragua to reunite with family and continue to learn about the native food.
"It's definitely a tribute to everyone that made it happen, the recipes that made it happen and our country," David says. "We took the photographer, Julie Soefer, to Nicaragua with us on one of our family reunions, so there are a lot of family photos in the book. That made it come to life."
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Most of the recipes were developed by David and Michael, but some of them are family recipes, and a few even come from Teresa Ocampo, whom David describes as "the Peruvian Julia Child" because of her popular TV show and the way she brought Peruvian cooking to the masses. The Cordúas acknowledge that her cooking was a great influence early in their careers as chefs and restaurateurs.
"It's a nod to our roots," David says. "What's cool is after being in Houston for 30 years seeing elements of Houston in our recipes. So there are some dishes that have a Vietnamese influence or Korean influence."
With the celebration of 25 years in business and so many new things on the horizon, the Cordúas are excited about where their restaurants are headed.
"You can see it all in the cookbook," David says, his excitement building. "It's literally the whole 25 years. Beginning to end, with a little bit of a sneak peek into the future."